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With Coronavirus sweeping our nation, it would be in the public’s best interest to have everyone informed of its dangers and the best ways to slow the spread. However, a recent Harvard University research study suggests that disparities exist in the knowledge that people have of this virus. The researchers found that minorities, men, and young people were lacking in their knowledge of the Coronavirus compared to other groups around the country. With the nation in the grip of both the Coronavirus pandemic and significant racial issues, this research can be very valuable. It’s important to know whom to educate about this virus and how best to treat those who may be the most affected, such as people of color.

This research was funded by the Harvard Kennedy School and was conducted by Marcella Alsan PhD, David Cutler PhD, Stefanie Stantcheva PhD, and David Yang PhD, colleagues in the National Bureau for Economic Research. The study was conducted in May of 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Because the research method was a survey, it could be done virtually. The research was published June 18, 2020 in Jama Network Open. 

In addressing the Coronavirus, public health officials need to focus their efforts on helping those who are disadvantaged, whether because they lack proper information or because they come from an economically disadvantaged area. COVID-19 disproportionately affects black communities, where nearly 90% reported a case of COVID-19 and 49% reported a death. In other countries that have smaller proportions of minorities, 81% reported a case and 29% reported a death. Looking at this data, in combination with information on the disparities in Coronavirus knowledge provided by this study, we can learn how to best serve the communities in the most need.

Researchers conducted this study because they noticed that mortality rates and infection rates were higher for certain demographic groups. The researchers thought that these groups should be the focus of our attention during the pandemic. However, it can be difficult to reach these groups because of a lack of knowledge. Therefore, they tried to find out where gaps in knowledge exist to hopefully be able to address them.

Researchers identified a large representative sample of the entire US and sent them an online survey. They took larger samples from places that were COVID-19 hotspots at the time, such as New York City, New Orleans, and Michigan. After giving their written consent to be surveyed, participants were asked if they personally knew someone who had the virus.  They were then asked to respond to several general knowledge questions about the virus, how it spreads, and how to prevent the spread.

The findings of this research showed gaps in knowledge of Coronavirus-related behaviors in minorities, men, and young people. Knowledge of the spread of COVID-19 was 9.4% lower for African Americans, compared to other racial groups, and 4.8% lower for Hispanics. Similar knowledge gaps were noted in participants’ understanding about Coronavirus symptoms and social distancing behaviors.

This information is important to readers because it shows where the public lacks information about the Coronavirus, and it points out who is in the most need. These minority groups who have typically been marginalized by society should be ignored no longer.  With this information, the Coronavirus response in the US can address some of these gaps in information and give underserved people the care they deserve.

The participants of this study gave written consent to participate, making it ethical. The survey was given online, making it easily repeatable. And researchers might want to repeat it because as the pandemic progresses, the public’s knowledge might also progress with it. Another limitation is that this survey was given online, which excluded people with unreliable internet from the population. To improve this study, researchers could repeat it multiple times to see how different groups’ knowledge of the virus grows and changes as the virus progresses.

With this pandemic continuing to grow in our country, it is important for us to focus on those groups that need the most direct help. These issues of racial injustice have been prevalent in our society for decades but have been brought into the limelight in recent months. Considering all the facts, it is time for us as a society to address these racial disparities, specifically the health care inequities that exist and are highlighted by the pandemic. Using this research, we as a society can focus our care on those who need it the most.


Alsan M, Cutler D, Stantcheva S, Yang D. 2020. Disparities in coronavirus 2019 reported incidence, knowledge, and behavior among US adults. JAMA Network Open. 3(6):1-11. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.12403.

Baral S, Benkeser D, Beyrer C, Crowley J, Honermann B, Jones A, Lankiewicz E, Mena L, Mercer L, Millett G, Sherwood J, Sullivan P. 2020. Assessing differential impacts of COVID-19 on black communities. Annals of Epidemiology. 47(1):37-44.


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